Altruism in Sports and Work

Posted by jlubans on October 03, 2012

A friend sent me the video link to an unusual occurrence of sportsmanship. It happened April 26, 2008 in a softball game – during a championship playoff series - between the universities of Western Oregon and Central Washington. Sara Tucholsky, of Western Oregon, smashed the ball out of the park, her first homer in a four-year collegiate career. With two runners on base, her blast scored two runs. Sara, once she rounded the bases, would be the third score against Central Washington. But, Sara in her excitement over-ran first base, then turned abruptly to go back to touch the base. She crumpled to the ground, a torn knee ligament, barely managing to crawl back to the base. Play stopped.
The coaches and umpires considered the alternatives and declared -erroneously - that if Sara stayed at first then her home run would become a two run single. No homer for Sara!
Her own teammates could not touch Sara or she would be disqualified.
Then Mallory Holtman, a star senior on the opposing team, asked the umpire: “Can we carry her around the bases?” The umpire scratched his head and said he saw nothing against it.
Caption: Sara Tucholsky, of Western Oregon, scores a homer with help from the opposing Central Washington team!
In this parent-made video while-it-happened, you can see Western Oregon’s Sara being carried by Central Washington’s Mallory Holtman and her teammate, shortstop Liz Wallace.
When asked why she did this surprisingly altruistic act, Holtman declared: “She hit it over the fence,” … “She deserved it. Anybody would have done it. I just beat them to it.” She said she had been taught by her coach, Gary Frederick, that ‘winning is not everything’.”
Once the news got out, discussion touched on Holtman’s remarkable demonstration of the best kind of sportsmanship. Some saw this as limited to women’s sports, declaring that men would never do this. A few thought helping an opponent was wrong. They asked, "Are not sports a metaphor for evolution, the survival of the fittest, the devil take the hindmost? Isn’t life like NASCAR, “If you’re not cheatin’, you ain’t racin’!”
According to evolutionary biologists, it is our kindness towards each other that has helped us survive and evolve. There are atavistic throwbacks amongst us – you know some, I’m sure - but for most of us helping others (cooperating) has gotten us to where we are. We have a long way to go, but without our genuine instinct to help we’d still be battling Neanderthals.
One story that ties this softball game to the workplace – it’s always “more than a game” for me - is of a boss who befriended a homeless man and gave him an opportunity for a decent life. This simple altruism was not so simple. The job was in North Carolina and the homeless man was in Chicago. My boss did not let that get in his way. This surprising act of decency was admired by some and dis-liked by a few. “Why should this homeless man get special treatment?” asked the critics. “There are plenty of people right here that need help!” they harrumphed.
My boss was not to be denied. What he did was remarkable and clearly made a difference in the homeless man’s life and, just as importantly, it affected those of us who would be reluctant to help someone “down and out”. I learned from that boss’ courage and decency.
Speaking of courage and decency, I am reminded of LaVerne Thornton's guest column on Servant Leadership. His new book, "You Ain't No Moses", with more examples of helping others drawn from life and business is forthcoming.
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